Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The McCain Illusion

Like many people back in 2000, I bought somewhat into the notion that Senator John McCain was a maverick Republican and an independent voice. Until early 2004, McCain somewhat maintained that reputation by criticizing various aspects of Bush's Iraq policy. Of course, given the acrimony of the 2000 campaign, there was no love lost between McCain and Bush.

But a funny thing happened in 2004. The details are still somewhat fuzzy and there are variations on the story but there were rumors and stories in 2004 that John Kerry had approached McCain about a bipartisan ticket with McCain as the vice president. Some say that it was McCain who approached Kerry but that doesn't make too much sense unless it was a cold calculation on McCain's part that was really directed at Bush. However, if it was McCain that was asked, Kerry may have unintentionally called McCain's bluff. In reality, McCain is no bipartisan maverick and perhaps never was even if he crossed the aisle now and then to work with others on joint bills as he did on accounting for Americans left behind in Vietnam.

In an era where Republicans drifted as far right as imaginable, a seemingly ordinary conservative Republican who's an easy story may seem moderate in the eyes of the media. Still, something reporters may have overlooked is that in the collegial slow-moving atmosphere of the Senate, it's possible to cajole somebody like McCain on a personal level, even if the man has a temper. In the fast-paced pressure-cooker of the White House, however, I doubt McCain could quickly come to the right decisions or at least change his mind later when it's important. Not with that temper of his. Not with his age becoming a factor. For almost eight years, we have seen how Bush stumbles over his ego and stubbornness rather think a policy through—or at least learn the facts. We don't need more stumbles on an almost daily basis.

Here's the latest stumble from McCain as mentioned in Newsday:
John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee and a supporter of the war, was considerably more gentle in his questioning of Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, during their testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Arizona senator, who recently confused the two main Muslim sects -- Shia and Sunni -- nearly repeated the gaffe, calling Sunni-led al-Qaida "an obscure sect of the Shias" before quickly correcting himself.

Even if McCain could keep pace with any numbers of events that are quickening, he is after all a conservative and he has been far too frequently wrong on Iraq and abyssmally wrong on the economy. Like Bush, the Senator from Arizona is attached to failed conservative policies and doesn't seem to learn from his mistakes.

With McCain, there's the added problem that he tends to tell members of the media what they want to hear. The ability to tell the media what they want to hear is not the same as the ability to make the right decisions. And too many on the cable news networks failed to see McCain's many contradictions and inconsistencies, such as when he suddenly embraced Bush four years ago. Here's a story in The Washington Post that covers some of what happened in the spring of 2004 before McCain joined a campaign trip in June for President Bush:
... McCain's trip with Bush grew out of a meeting this spring between White House senior adviser Karl Rove and John Weaver, a top adviser to McCain, who became a Democratic consultant after the bitter campaign between Bush and McCain.


The meeting represented the beginning of a rapprochement between the two men and in a symbolic sense between the Bush and McCain camps. "There had to be a breaking of the ice and a breaking of the logjam," said one source familiar with the meeting. "What better way for that to occur than to have the two main antagonists in the drama doing it?"

The Bush team's outreach to McCain occurred at the same time Kerry was trying to entice the Arizonan to join him on what some Democrats fantasized could be a unity ticket that could attract moderate Republicans.

It may have been important for Bush to neutralize McCain's VP chances in order to enhance his own chances of reelection. But McCain took the new relationship very seriously, so seriously that one has to wonder what was promised? Help in 2008?

Here's an example a couple of days later from the San Francisco Chronicle of McCain jumping wholeheartedly on the Bush bandwagon:

... McCain's political relationship with Bush has been so frosty that Kerry reportedly talked recently to the Arizona senator about running for vice president on the Democratic ticket.

McCain put an end to those suggestions Friday, joining the president in a morning visit with troops at Fort Lewis in Washington state, then flying to Reno to give Bush a ringing endorsement for his work in Iraq, calling it "noble, achievable and necessary.''

Leaving Saddam Hussein in charge in Iraq was a risk the country could not take, McCain said. While the war "has surely had its ups and downs,'' Bush's efforts "deserve not only support, but admiration. He has led with great moral clarity and resolve.''

If the reader can stop gagging on McCain's fawning hyperbole for a moment, it might be worth asking if this is the moment McCain's 2008 presidential bid began? This kind of brazen about face, flip flop as some call it, requires enormous ambition. There is no integrity in being a consistent Bush critic for four years (at least when McCain wasn't voting) and suddenly fawning on the man. For the those of us paying attention, 2004 is when it became obvious that McCain was an illusion.

We have learned a great deal more since then. A new book is out called The Real McCain by Cliff Schecter; here's more on it in the Huffington Post. McCain's temper and many contradictions and inconsistencies are going to become more of an issue as time goes by. We simply cannot afford another president like George W. Bush. The media, unfortunately, is still in love with John McCain. These are the same guys that talked endlessly about George W. Bush in his flight suit as he embarrassed his presidency with his Mission Accomplished speech on Iraq. There's more on the media/McCain love affair in Daily Kos.

The Democrats have their work cut out for them. If the Democratic nominee can run against John McCain, the Democrats may be able to change a few things in Washington and bring about some measure of badly needed reform. If the Democratic nominee is forced to run against the Illusion, George W. Bush may have his successor and third term by proxy. And the same failed policies will continue.

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Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Very good. The more that comes out, the more it seems possible we could see McCain as president having some kind of Capt. Queeg moment, with disastrous consequences for the country.

Watching and listening to McCain, it becomes clear that he, like Bush 41, intends on domestic matters to simply manage things and be a bulwark against progressive reform and (God forbid) change. He utterly lacks any kind of vision or comprehensive plan for making things better.

McCain's real interests are military and foreign affairs, as exemplified by his facts-be-damned utterances about Iraq and his "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" levity.

12:29 PM  

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